Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Death Defying Parachutist Stuntman

Deja vu in politics can be a terrible thing.

This is because it so very often relates to a former leader resurrecting themselves.

Think of 'The Bomber,' Kim Beazley, for a recent example of this. Everytime the wallopers in the backroom of the Labor Party got a bit twitchy - very often about the same time the current leader started talking about 'reform' of the party structure - The Bomber would find himself pressed into service, a safe pair of hands - and no reform ideas - to guide the party through a rough patch. In fact, this happened so often, the poor bloke probably got a bit confused and forgot where his seat in Parliament was. No wonder he muddled up Karl Rove and Rove McManus.

And everytime The Bomber came off the bench, he'd pledge himself to 'a fresh start,' 'bold policy ideas,' 'a new Kim Beazley' and all the other half baked, cliched nonsense that politicians come out with when they hope no one's actually listening. And everytime, he'd fair about the same; he'd waffle on for a bit, Howard and Costello would make fun of him and he'd be packed off to the back benches as soon as another half credible leadership alternative presented itself.

One of which was Kevin Rudd.

So it was with an odd sense of deja vu, mixed with goodly amout of dread, that one watched Heavy Kevvy's performance on 'Q & A' on Monday night (sorry, no embed option available, get with the times 'ABC'!):

For there can be no doubt, based on this effort, that Kevin Rudd imagines that he can one day lead the Labor Party and be Prime Minister again.

I mean, let's look at the evidence.

The first time around, when Rudd became ALP leader - seemingly several lifetimes ago but actually only 3 and a bit years in the past - he did this largely through the media. Partly, this was down to necessity.

Rudd does not come from a union background, or some other sector easily identifiable to the Labor faithful, and had never cultivated much of a personal following in Federal Caucus. The media allowed him to bypass these more traditionally required steps to the party leadership and establish himself as a prominent public figure. And so he developed his media profile, on the one hand appearing on popular mainstream shows like 'Sunrise,' and on the other becoming a well established leaker and confidante of leading press figures, who he could then use to help push his agenda.

And here he is again, years later, cracking lame jokes and mugging to the cameras through the forum of a national TV program. And while 'Q and A' may not be 'Sunrise' (to everyone's relief), it's not the 'Mt Gambier Advertiser' either.

The Rudd persona that was on display on 'Q and A' is another indicator that the little nerdy bloke is thinking about taking the top job back again. He's had a couple of these, personas, since Gillard and the wallopers pushed him over last year. There was the teary windbag from 'resignation' day:

The sulky outcast, wronged by the world:

The hard working local candidate, just trying to represent his local constituents:

And the death defying parachutist stunt man:

Ahhhh... if only.

But this latest incarnation is the first one that has attempted to connect Rudd back with his successful public persona of 2007/08; nerdy but compassionate, compassionate but tough, tough but brainy, brainy but not that far removed from you. You can almost see him thinking: 'It worked a treat last time round... Why not again?'

Why not indeed?

While it's unwise to rule out anything in politics, Kevvy will find his path back to the top much harder this time round. For starters supporters, whether inside a political party or out in the boarder public, do not return to discarded leaders easily. Part of the appeal of a new leader is that they have something fresh about them, that they haven't yet bored us to death with their personal catchphrases and tale of woe upbringing anecdotes. Rudd no longer has this advantage. Whatever charm the way he asks himself a stream of rhetorical questions, or mangles the classic Australian vernacular:

used to possess, dissipated long ago.

Secondly, Rudd has almost certainly made himself more enemies within the ALP since he was last leader. As mentioned, he was never personally popular but when he became leader he'd also done his best to avoid the worst of the factional infighting and skullduggery that seems to make up so much of modern Labor. This is not the case this time, where his internal standing has been tarnished by a number of mini scandals; chief among them the leaks from Rudd's cabinet that seriously threatened to derail Labor's election campaign last year.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the third key element that will work against Rudd's quest to return to the Labor leadership is that John Howard is no longer Liberal leader. Rudd has always been a weird, tightly wound, bureaucratic little freak with a short temper, but, in direct comparison to Howard, suddenly looked like Hunter S. Thompson.

Rudd's public persona at the 2008 election was essentially Howard-lite: all the conservative tendencies without the extreme elements of Howard's policy program, 'Work Choices' chief among them. Flash forward till now and the roles would almost be reversed in a contest that pitted Rudd against Tony Abbott. A lot of people may be wary of Abbott's politics, but he is widely perceived as a knockabout sort of bloke. An every day sort of guy, largely free of artifice, who speaks his mind and, perhaps most importantly in Australian politics, the sort of bloke who wouldn't look out of place at the local pub. In other words, about as far removed from Rudd as you could imagine.

None of which, I suspect, will deter Rudd, in his second quest for the top (perhaps the only thing that would, would be a bottle in the face, and that only briefly). And it may not deter potential backers inside the Labor Party either. Rudd, after all, is an election winner, and that is something that has been in very short supply in the ALP recently.

All of which makes for the prospect of highly unstable times ahead for Labor, and creates another problem for the Prime Minister to deal with. And for Julia Gillard, this will make for a very strong sense of deja vu indeed.

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